Zero Waste Leader team and the Zero Waste Initiative at West Middle School Andover, MA During the summer of 2016, the town of Andover decided to make moves to drastically reduce waste in our public schools. The decision was made to implement compost collection, improve our recycling practices as well as to rescue and donate unused food in our lunchrooms. Education of the school community in order to make these initiatives successful was lacking. The Zero Waste Initiative and the student Zero Waste leaders team at West Middle School were created to fill that need.
The tremendous efforts of administration, teachers, parents and the students that ultimately run this program at West Middle School, resulted in a staggeringly successful reduction in waste and a positive team environment. With the unwavering support of Principal Rebecca Franks and Vice Principal Greg Waters and head custodian Jim Anguilin, a process and instruction on sorting of waste was put into place during the first two weeks of school. The average of 16 barrels of trash a day was reduced to 2- 2 ½ barrels of trash a day! It was at this time that it was noted that a supervisory role was needed at the waste sorting stations to make sure that best practices were upheld and that compost and recycling were not contaminated. The decision was made to ask students if they were interested in volunteering to take on these roles. The team of eighteen students that came together at all three lunches at West Middle School is now known as the Zero Waste Leader team. Zero waste student leaders are given badges to be able to get to the front of the lunch line. This enables the students to finish lunch and get to one of the two waste sorting stations in the lunchroom on time to help fellow students. These students donate their time to monitor waste sorting and draining and recycling of liquid filled containers. They also educate fellow students on this sorting process and help in collecting food rescue. These students have also worked with an Andover High School Environmental sustainability intern Shelby Ganam and parent volunteer Elissa Iwanicki, to help create an on-line teaching game to further educate their peers in the classroom. Other education work done by this group includes participation in a Trash Free Friday contest. Students made posters and talked to their peers about using reusable containers and making other choices, (Not using individually packaged snacks as well as compostable food containers) to reduce their waste footprint in the school lunchroom on this contest day and every day. On this Trash Free Friday, West Middle School generated only nine pounds of trash!
The Zero Waste Leader team is currently working on a project to increase awareness of the negative environmental impact of using plastic Baggies. They have begun collecting Baggies thrown out in the trash and are planning on making a sculpture to display in the lunchroom. This model of peer leadership can be replicated and implemented in other schools in our district. The measurable reduction in trash is the most obvious impact of this initiative. It can also be clearly seen that this team of student leaders at this school of just under 600 students has been empowered to be innovative leaders and to take control of their school’s impact on the environment. The Zero waste leaders continue to come up with new ideas to reduce waste. They strive to inspire and to get “buy in” their peers to participate in the program as well as to make better choices for our environment. These student volunteers are our future leaders in the world at large. They are incubating their leadership skills here at West Middle School. They are making a marked difference in our community and our world!